Annually, the School of Art + Design showcases the work of graduating Master’s of Fine Arts students in an exhibition at the Krannert Art Museum. This year is no different. Opening on Friday April 7th, the School of Art + Design’s MFA Exhibition will give visitors the chance to see and experience the latest in art and academia. Fourteen graduate students will present their work in the exhibition while sixteen students will be featured in the exhibition’s catalogue. Along with the annual Faculty and Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibitions, the MFA Exhibition tends to bridge the gap between the professional and the novice. Often the graduate students are already professional artists; however, this exhibition is the culmination of two intensive years of researching, making, and exploring the theories that guide their hands and minds into a reality.
To give visitors a better idea of what they will see and experience, here is a quick run-down of who is exhibiting, what their field is, and what their goals are for their works.
Aileen Bai (Industrial Design) used her own experience with trying to communicate with her grandmother to open avenues for research and creation. Bai focuses on the digital user’s experience and how design plays a role in interaction and use. Her design for an application for older adults to communicate with their family members is featured in the exhibition and the catalogue.
Austin Chen (Industrial Design) is interested in human-centered design. In other words, he is interested in how the human body and mind interact with everyday objects and how those objects may help or hinder our user experience. As one can see in his work, Chen is interested in how a simple object like a seat cushion can be aesthetically pleasing and providing comfort as well as useful in correcting posture through technology and physical design.
Ben Cook (Painting) examines the ideas of structure and space in painting while also exploring the construction of identity through images. Rather than approach painting from a traditional perspective, Cook takes the digital approach of rendering, layering, cropping, and altering to his paintings.
Courtney Cross (Painting) (pictured left) uses a variety of media to explore identity, relationships, narratives, and spaces. Her work is abstract and varied.
Evin Dubois (Sculpture) deconstructs the traditional masculine body and identity to explore the tension that emerges from confronting and examining notions of masculinity. The bodies that he creates are formed through a process of examining sexuality and cultural confrontations, engaging materials, and reshaping the form based on experiences. In the end, they are products of their own narratives and as new identities.
Jon Gott’s (Sculpture) artist statement reads, “under the dark trees / follow the rivers and tides / you’ll burst into ﬂames.”
Brett Hanover (New Media), through his short film Rukus (2017), is interested in identity, imagination, relationships, and transformation. In his statement, Hanover says, “A hybrid of documentary and fiction, Rukus is a coming-of-age story set in the liminal spaces of furry conventions,southern punk houses, and virtual worlds. The narrative is anchored by my friendship with Rukus, a furry artist from Orlando, but opens up onto a broader network of queer and marginalized young people.”
Qing He (Graphic Design) (pictured right) explores user experience through the lense of learning and education. With a focus on young girls and body positivity, Qing conducted a study and created a mobile game application. The application is aesthetically appealing while also useful in promoting a concept and engaging the user on a deeper level.
Rachel Flood Heaton’s (Industrial Design) work revolves around the idea of simplicity, timelessness of a product, aesthetic appeal, and the prototype (or “best examples of a given conceptual category”). Heaton says it best in her statement, “I am investigating whether we can apply knowledge of prototype effects when developing product form in order to reduce mental conflict between a product’s visual design and the user’s learned mental representation, or schema, of the productcategory.” She uses coffee makers in the exhibition to illustrate her point.
Brit Krohmer (New Media) states in her artist statement: “BODY AS OPERATOR / BODY AS MACHINE / MACHINE AS BODY / BODY AS EXTENSION OF MACHINE / MACHINE AS EXTENSION OF BODY.” Her work Doom Study (Labor of the Everyday) (2016) and Body + Machine (2016) will be on display.
Sue Kay Lee (Sculpture) challenges the gender binary with its expectations and limitations through various interactions like reproduction and attraction. In doing so, she hopes to find more ways of self-expression and interpersonal connection.
Si-ze Ma (Graphic Design) also explores human interaction through design. However, Ma focuses on the experience of introducing another culture’s language and culture to a user. Ma created Eventide, an application designed to introduce the Chinese language and cultural philosophy of balance to an immersed audience.
Caitlin Skelcey (Metals) seeks to subvert the allure of the artificial by fusing it with more traditional practices and materials in her artwork. Inspired by her own “modified physicality” (a bone and titanium fusion), she challenges identity of the idea of the authentic by using fabricated pieces that appear to be real bone in her work. This challenge invites conversations aboutbody modification, current technological advancements in medicine, and what it means to be human in the twenty-first century.
Karen J. Spiering (Studio Arts) (pictured left) examines the idea of place by collecting, identifying, categorizing, and displaying objects from her excursions. “Collecting moments by movement in landscapes, I map my experience of the assembled, remembered, interpreted, sensed, comprehended and imagined place,” states Spiering in her statement.
Two other MFA graduates will be part of the catalogue for the exhibition; however, they will not be exhibiting any work in the gallery. Ann Wu, an Art Education graduate, created a story generator for a classroom setting called “Writer’s Block.” The application is a way for her to explore social justice and diversity through interactive and digital format in both a formal and informal classroom setting. An essay describing the theories and research that she conducted will be in the catalogue.
Similarly, Art Education graduate Albert “Bert” Sabler’s work is mostly theoretical. His graduate work has focused on documenting the work of Laurie Jo Reynolds, a Chicago artist and policy advocate. Reynolds is probably most well-known for launching Tamms Year Ten, a legislative and cultural campaign to change or close the Tamms Correctional Center in Tamms, IL through art and advocacy. Reynolds is interested in Reynolds’ “legislative art” and theories that surround it. (As a side note, Sabler’s gallery Outhaus will have an opening reception for Bunker Furnishings from John Preus on Saturday April 8th from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. as part of the Boneyard Arts Festival. Ergo, you can still support him by visiting Outhaus and seeing how his theories are applied in reality.)
The2017 MFA Exhibition public opening reception in the Link Gallery will be Saturday April 8th from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The exhibition will remain open until Saturday April 22nd. An illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. For more information, visit KAM’s website.
Images are courtesy of the artists with their permission. In order of appearance they are: Brett Hanover’s still from Rukus (2017), Courtney Cross’ Friends (2015), Qing He’s Stretch me design demo on an iPad (no date), Karen J. Spiering’s Place Studies: Eastern CentralIllinois/Hillcrest area of Champaign 2016-17 (2017).
[Editor's note -- an earlier edition of this article incorrectly credited "Brit Kohmer" and "Ervin Dubois", the article now properly credits "Brit Krohmer and "Evin Dubois" with sincerest apologies to the artists.]